assumptions, authentic learning, Be the change, classroom expectations, collaboration, Critical thinking, MIEExpert15, Passion, Personalized Learning

9 Barriers to Personalized Learning And How We May Work Around Them

image from icanread

I didn’t know I was doing personalized learning when I first changed the way I taught.  It wasn’t until I wrote about it in a blog post and someone gave me the name and description that it clicked.  It made sense really; I wanted students to have a voice, have choice, and to be re-ignited passionate learners within my classroom, all tenets of the personalized learning philosophy.  For me it was a no brainer; why not teach in a such a way that students would want to be part of the learning?  Why not teach in such a way that students became experts and have a place alongside the teacher?  Yet, wherever I go resistance remains for personalized learning.  In fact, some educators or districts are quite against it, but for many different reasons.  I cannot be alone in seeing this resistance, so I thought a discussion of what those barriers may be and how you can approach a discussion to work around them would be in order.

Barrier:  It’s one more thing to do.  We are faced with seemingly more tasks every single year as teachers, from major ones  forced upon us to the little ones we cannot wait to do because we were inspired.   When will we ever find the time to do personalized learning as well?

Discussion Point:  Personalized Learning should not be an add-on but a replacement.  So if you are already doing something, change it with a lens of personalized learning.  Can you add choice into a pre-existing project?   Can students show mastery in a multitude of ways?  Embrace personalized learning as a way to become a better educator by sharing more control with the students, keep it manageable for you and integrate in a natural way to alleviate the feeling of one more thing being added to the to-do list.

Barrier:  It is overwhelming.  It is easy to see why personalized learning can be viewed as overwhelming.  Often those who discuss its merits have been doing it for years and has framed their whole classroom around it.  Their personalized learning initiatives is a long list of to-done’s.

Discussion Point:  One small step at a time.   When discussing personalized learning focus on how to start, what to do in the beginning, and the small changes that can make a big difference.  Certainly keep the end-point in mind, but don’t worry about it yet.  Worry about where you are right now and how you will start your journey, not when you are going to get to the end.

Barrier:  It will be chaotic.  We often envision chaos when we stop doing a one path to the learning  format for students and that when students are given choice they will not know what to do.

Discussion Point:  Personalized learning does not mean giving up control, but rather that control is shared with the students.  It also means multiple paths to mastery, but these are planned out either by yourself or in conjunction with your students.  Yet, you know yourself best; what can you give up control of and what can you not.  You are also a member of this learning community so if there are certain things that need to stay in order, such as an assignment being done a certain way, or students sitting in a particular way, it is okay to hold onto that.  Find the things that you can let go of, invite student input into the process, and grow together.

Barrier:  My subject matter won’t work.  Personalized learning means hands-on and project based; how do you do  that in English, Spanish or any other class?

Discussion Point:  Personalized learning can be implemented into any classroom, the lens just has to switch.  I had a lot easier time giving choice in social studies and science because a lot of our learning was hands-on, project based.  So when I switched to just teaching English, I had to change my way of thinking.  Personalized Learning in my English class means students have choice in how they show mastery (different project choices), when they show mastery (timeline), and often how they work within the classroom (classroom setup/management).

Barrier:  It will be replaced with another idea soon.  Education is a long list of new ideas and change is the one constant we have.

Discussion Point:  Personalized Learning really just means great teaching and great teaching will not be replaced with a new idea.  So while new initiatives are bound to come, the ideas of personalized learning helping you be a better teacher remain because it speaks to student autonomy and re-igniting a passion for learning.

Barrier:  I don’t want to  integrate more technology or don’t have access.  Technology inequity is a real problem.  So is technology fear.   Some teachers want to feel comfortable with the technology they bring in before students use it, and others will never be able to get the things they wish they could.

Discussion Point: Personalized learning is not about the technology.  Personalized learning is about creating an education process that takes into account the needs and desires of each child, while still working through the set curriculum.  Technology is a tool that can be used in this process but not a central tenet.  I started out with 4 computers in my room for 26 students.  We naturally did not incorporate a lot of technology and we didn’t need to.  Choices involved the things we did have and students bringing in things from home if they wanted to.  We made it work with what we had.

Barrier:  I won’t be a good teacher.  It is hard to change the way we teach because we may already be teaching really well.

Discussion Point:  Change is hard for all of us, but modeling risks for students is instrumental in their learning journey.  I am uncomfortable every time I make a big decision about the way I teach or something we will do, but I think the discomfort makes me a more thoughtful practitioner.  By sharing and modeling this for students, I am showing them that I take risks and that sometimes those risks pay off and other times they don’t.  We have to grow to evolve and sometimes that means even leaving behind things that were just fine.  Besides, our students change every year, so should we.

Barrier:  I have to do the same as all the other teachers in my subject or grade level.  We don’t want students to be a part of an educational lottery where the quality of their education hinges on which teacher they get, so sometimes uniformity and in turn, conformity, is preached above all else.

Discussion Point:  Have what other teachers do as one of the choices for students.  This brilliant idea was shared at the task force meeting I was a part of in my district.  Instead of dismissing what other teachers are doing, simply make it on e of the paths that students can take.  That way you are also catering to the myriad of ways that students learn.  You may learn best in a hands-on project based environment, whereas others may learn best with a read/reflect/discuss with a test at the end pathway.  make room for all of your learners and include the ways of other teachers in your room.

Barrier:  Parents/administrators/community will be upset.  When we are faced with unknowns our first instinct may be to revolt.

Discussion Point:  School should look different than when we were students.  Yet communication, understanding and examples are vital when integrating more personalized learning into your classroom our school.  Any change is hard for parents who want to try to help their children, so make sure you are communicating the why and the how behind your changes whatever they may be.  If administration is wary bring them in to see the change, show them other classrooms, and explain your motivation.  Tell them you will do a trial period and you can discuss and evaluate.  Just like you are asking others to be open to change, be open to frank discussion yourself.

Moving toward personalized learning has been one of the most significant changes I ever did in my educational journey, but it wasn’t always smooth.  I have faced many of these barrier myself but now love being in a district that has it as part of its vision.  Wherever you are in your journey, or even if you haven’t started, don’t be discouraged by the barriers that may face you.  Reach out, connect with others who are on the same journey, and find the support you need to be successful.  I am here to help if you need it.

If you want to see 6 things you can change to start your personalized learning journey, read this.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, classroom expectations, new year, our classroom, Passion

Why Not Treat Them Like They Want to Be In Our Classrooms?

image from icanread

I bartended for many years before and after I became a teacher.  Something about the hours and the people appealed to me and it is even how I met my husband; he was a bouncer and I was behind the bar.  I remember seeing the same people come in weekend after weekend.  Not because they had to.  Not because there was anything special going on.  Not because the drinks were fantastic.  Instead it was because of the people who worked there.  The people who made the place special.  The people who knew you, who knew what you liked, who asked about your family, who made you feel cared about.  They made the experience special.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because in our classrooms we make the difference of whether kids want to show up or not.  We already know they have to be there, but our relationship with them is what can determine whether they want to be a part of our classrooms or not.  It is our attitude, how we greet them, how we treat them, that will make the difference.

So when school starts again, offer them the attention they deserve.  Ask about more than homework or work habits.  About more than what is happening at school.  Look at them when you speak to them.  Seek them out for conversation.  Listen.  Remember. And share yourself.

We know it is about the relationship.  We know a successful education can hinge on personal relationships.  Why not treat the students as if they don’t have to be there but instead want to be there?  Why not treat them like we would our favorite customer?  It’s amazing how much a smile and a few lines of conversation can do, don’t forget that.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, being me, classroom expectations, classroom management, classroom setup, new year

Modified Readers/Writers Workshop in the 7th Grade Classroom

image from icanread

All summer my mind has been in high gear trying to wrap itself around what my classroom experience will be like next year.  I know I will be teaching an incredible age group of students at an amazing school with a stellar team.  I know I will be an English teacher and what our curriculum is.  But that still left me with the big question; what will this look like in my room?  5th grade I knew what it looked like.  5th grade I had 90 leisurely minutes to get through reading and then another 75 for writing.  What luxury!  But 45 minutes every day for both reading and writing what does that even look like?

So I did what I always do; reach out both locally here to my awesome colleague Wendy, but also globally to amazing people who have been answering my questions.  So I think I have an idea of what it will look like, a more tangible plan has been forming in my head, so now I do what I always do; share.  Because I cannot be the only 7th grade English teacher wondering how to do this!

My crazy ideas include independent reading EVERY DAY.  This is not a typical thing I have heard in 7th grade due to the limited time for teaching, but Jillian Heise, who I admire, gave me the perfect idea; to use it as the very first thing when students enter.  That way every child has a purpose and routine as they enter the room.  I am free to check in with students, gather what needs to be gathered and otherwise just observe/assess/and ask questions.

Up next will be the mini-lesson, I will be alternating days between a reading and writing focus, however, there will be both every day.  This is where my skills of not blabbering will be tested.  The mini-lesson needs to be short!  This is where picture books come in handy, as well as using the same text for both.   That way students are familiar with the text on the second day but we can change our lens with which we view it. Also, the Global Read Aloud text “One For the Murphy’s” will be used as our mentor text for the 6 weeks of the project, ensuring that we participate in the read aloud.  And yes, I set up my rocking chair and easel in a corner just for this purpose, students can choose to sit on the carpet or in chairs as we listen, discuss, and reflect.  

Then on to conferring and independent work time. I will be meeting with small groups and one-on-one with students for the next 15/20 minutes.  During this time students will be writing or reading, whatever the focus is for the day.  That does mean that some kids will get more independent reading time, and I am thankful for that.  I fully believe that if we want kids to be great readers they need to read as much as possible.  I am hoping to meet with 2 small groups at least every day.  This may be totally unrealistic, but it will keep the pressure on me.  I will also spend time popping down next to students as they read for informal check ins, cutting out time wasted of students coming to me.  

We will end the 45 minutes with grammar, blogging, random mini-teaching points as well as show-and-tell.  Yup how-and-tell.  Thank you John T. Spencer for the idea.  If we are to live a life of readers and writers, we need to build a community and show off what we hold dear.  Show and tell allows us to share a slice of us, plus it can lead to deeper reflection for the audience of the reaction they have to something.  This won’t be every day, probably on Friday’s, but it will happen.

This is all tentative and should really be entitled “Pernille’s crazy ideas for modified workshop.”  But it is a start, a tangible start, that gives me something to work with and work on from the very first day of school.  There will also be days of Mystery Skype, Skyping with authors, longer assignments, speeches, and presentations.  But those will come as needed.  And with my independent reading class I will get to implement 20% time every Friday!  So yeah, I may not know what I am doing yet, but I have an idea, and it is making me so excited to get started!

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

classroom expectations, classroom management, community, discipline, punishment, student choice, student driven, Student-centered

Don’t Act Like An Idiot – My 5th Graders Make Our Rules

image from icanread

Silence…not something that happens in a room full of 27 students.

Then one hand cautiously rises, then another, but still mostly silence…

A minute ago I had asked my students, “What do we do in this classroom when you don’t behave well?”

This was now the reaction I faced; confused looks and silence.  4 years ago, my students would have prattled off a list: we write our name on the boards, you give us a checkmark, we lose recess, we lose free time, we call home, we go to the principal’s office.   All very common consequences in classrooms.  But now, 4 years later, I have unintentionally stumped my students.

One student finally says, “Well, you expect us to not act like idiots, so we don’t.”

Another student jumps in, “Yeah, and if we do something stupid then you tell us to fix it.”

And a third, “So we just talk about it and figure it out.”

Aha!  We discuss their behavior and then we fix it in whichever way it needs to be fixed.

I threw away punishment because I always punished the same students.  It also never solved the problem but just added a grudge between the student and myself.  Today, some question whether students can truly act well when you don’t punish.  When they don’t know the consequences of their behavior.  Some think that no punishment equals no rules, no perimeters, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

No punishment means no public shaming, no loss of privileges, no loss of recess unless we need private time to talk.  It doesn’t mean no structure, no expectations, or a free for all of student chosen behavior.  It means I expect my students to make the classroom rules.  I expect them to behave well.  I expect them to make good choices.  I don’t have a perfect classroom, but I have kids that try.  I have kids that know what the expectation is.  I have kids that make a choice everyday, whether to be active participants in our learning journey, or whether to act like idiots.  They don’t always make the right choice, but if they don’t, then we deal with it on a situational basis.

So no, I don’t need to punish my students into behaving, and not because they are all angels (ha, far from it) but because as a classroom we have decided to learn, to share, to behave like a typical 5th grader.

Don’t act like idiots, in true 5th grade language, and represent.  Those are some of the rules for our classroom.  I din’t make them but I do give them to grow and become part of our culture.  Most kids know how to act in school, it is time we gave them our trust and a chance to prove it.

Edit:  As you can see from a comment, the word idiot can be taken to something much deeper than is its intention here.  When my students and I use the word “idiot” it is meant to convey a 5th grader that deliberately chooses to do something they shouldn’t, not someone with an intellectual disability.  I never mean to offend but here I chose to let the word stand since it portrays the conversation we had. 

being a teacher, building community, classroom expectations, classroom setup, new year, Student-centered, Uncategorized

Back to School – January Edition

image from icanread

January comes at us like a lion it seems bringing students who were just getting used to being on break, miserably cold winter days where no sledding is allowed at school, and more assessments. Every year January always reminds me of the beginning of the year and last year I started to treat it as such.  Goodbye January humdrum, welcome January excitement.  So what will we be doing to battle the January blues?

  • Reassess our classroom rules.  Students get a little tired and a little more restless so it is the perfect opportunity for them to set new rules for the classroom.  They also know each other a lot better, particularly each others’ quirks, and so I find the conversation tends to go much deeper then it did in September.
  • Set up the classroom.  While I think our work space works really well, I am not the one constantly using it. Time to ask the students if things need to be moved around and then do it.  Also time for me to re-evaluate the room.
  • A heart to heart on work habits. While I ask the students to self-assess constantly throughout the year, we need to have some honest reflection on how they have been working independently.  I like to think of it as new year’s resolutions set with an eye on middle school.
  • Take stock of projects.  How have they been doing on projects, are they pushing themselves into new venues or are they sticking to much of the same old same old?  What are new ideas they can’t wait to try and how will they try them?
  • Re-introduce genius hour.  We took a break from genius hour in the last month or so because we have been too busy, but January is the perfect time to refocus on it, this time in science rather than social studies.  Students have been busy at work learning about landforms, now is the time for them to take charge of what they want to learn.
  • Have a classroom reading challenge.  The students have been excited about reading but January is typically the time they start to feel overwhelmed or bogged down.  Last year we did the classroom reading challenge and it really brought in a lot of excitement.  It is quite simple:  Every child sets a secret goal (they only share it with me) for how many books they will read in the month of January, the goal can include picture books, graphic novels, or chapter books.  We then reveal the total number of books we pledge to read on a bulletin board.  They then read as much as they can and report to me whenever they finish a book (paper on my desk), I print out a picture of the cover and add it to our huge bulletin board.  Nobody knows who read what or how many books they have each read but everybody is reading and if we meet our goal, we have a huge read-in party as a celebration with an author Skype call.  I cannot wait!
  • Re-do routines.  We have great routines but now is the time to re-assess, what do we still need to work on, what is no longer needed, what should we streamline?  Again, this discussion is student-led with input from me.
  • Throw some surprise challenges their way.  They have been working hard on our team challenges  throughout the year and now is the time to give them even more.  I am thinking the boat building challenge, as well as marshmallow catapults.  Oh, and I do believe we have to build some vinegar rockets as well.
  • Re-assess my own opinions.  Have I labeled students unknowingly, do I really know the child in front of me?  What are the priorities we need to have for their learning journey and what will I do to help them accomplish their goals?  Now is the time to reflect about each child.

What will you be doing to re-energize the classroom?

classroom expectations, classroom management, reflection

Some Simple Truths About Teaching Well

The best way to be reminded of how to teach well is to be taught ourselves.  As I find myself in NYC this week being taught by professors I am once again reminded of these simple things that if in place make our teaching so much stronger.

  • State your purpose.  I spent 20 minutes being confused yesterday because I had no idea why we were doing the awesome exercise we were doing.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t listened, it simply had not been stated and so rather than pay attention to the teacher I was trying to figure it out.  You can bet I was not fully concentrated on the purpose and it showed.
  • Don’t just partner us.  We were told to partner with someone and sit on the floor.  I am shy, I had no idea who to partner with, and I wanted to melt into the floor.  When students are just getting to know each other, take the time to create the partnerships so that they don’t have to stand there by themselves hoping someone picks them. 
  • Be specific. Once I had figured out the purpose, we had already moved on to something more grand and many things were being modeled and thrown at me.  After a long stream of strategies and pretending to be 5th grader (I hate pretending to be a 5th grader) I was told to go practice.  Practice what?  The first thing?  The second thing?  All of them?  State the specific thing we need to work on, write it on the board for us visual learners and then make sure everyone knows what they are doing.  I just muddled my way through hoping I was doing the right thing.
  • Take questions.  I hate the parking lot method, I don’t want my question answered at the end when the context has been lost.  I would like it answered in the moment so I can move on.  Kids get stuck o their confusion, their wonder, or their need for an answer, take the minute it takes to answer it and we can all move on.
  • Show your supports.  My teacher had made a beautiful anchor chart on characterization and even pointed to it throughout her monologue.  The only problem was it hung on a side wall and she sat in front of it so no one could read it, yes seriously….  So if you take the time to create something, make sure it is in a place you can actually see it and use it.
  • Leave time at the end for discussion.  We all have so much to cover and get through but if we do not take the time to discuss expectations, where we are headed, and also what the homework will entail, you will leave your students feeling lost.  Writing up the homework assignment as kids head out the door without time for questions about it means you are assuming everyone gets it.  Don’t assume, slow down, manage your time and wrap up your class so everyone feels confident as they leave, not confused and like a poor student.